Coping correctly during the first vital seconds of an emergency may make all the difference between survival and catastrophe.  Only frequent practice of the correct procedures will make the difference.

The Vampire FB5s and T11s that I flew during my military training a million years ago were not fitted with ejector seats although later versions of the T11 were. Robert Jago, who had a letter in the Spring 2017 issue about his simple and effective Angle Of Attack indicator, and I have exchanged Vampire reminiscences recently as he is another ex Vampire trainee. He reminded me of the unfortunate occurrence where for some reason the instructor of a T11 not fitted with ejector seats gave the order to bale out and the student undid his quick release parachute harness instead of the seat harness. That simple small mistake cost him his life.

The story is a vivid example of how in an emergency things can very quickly go disastrously wrong. The remedy is, of course, to practice emergencies frequently so that in the heat and stress of the moment you will be far more likely to make the right moves. ‘Practice’ in many cases can be just going through touch drills in the cockpit or even just rehearsing the procedures in your mind. The difference between a test pilot and an ordinary pilot is sometimes said to be that the test pilot expects abnormal situations to crop up on every flight while the ordinary pilot expects normality for every flight. Consequently the ordinary pilot is easily caught out when an emergency arises, especially if he or she has not given emergency procedures any attention recently.

A valuable overview of the problems offered by emergencies is to be found in a presentation on Emergency and Abnormal Situations: Aviation and Process Control Industries. This was delivered by Barbara Burian Ph.D. and two other Ph.D.’s at the Abnormal Situations Management Consortium. October 2003. Richmond, California. The full notes are at https://goo.gl/KiZS3c and it is useful to bear in mind that the consortium is concerned with abnormal situations and emergencies of all sorts, not just Commercial Air Transport (CAT), which was the subject of this gathering. It is interesting that the same principles apply broadly to GA emergencies as they do in any other complex emergency situation in other activities. Whatever the activity there will probably be an emergency procedure already laid down but unless the operatives are fully up to speed with these the consequences can be dire. The presentation is summed up as follows:

  • Emergency and abnormal situations:

  • are often time critical, complex and/or ambiguous

    are high stress, high workload, and a great deal is at stake

    require exceptionally high levels of co ordination inside and outside of the airplane 

    Emergency and abnormal procedures:

    are generally focused on aircraft systems rather than on the situation as a whole

    are practised seldom (twice a year or less) and used rarely

    The observations on situations apply as wholly to GA as they do to CAT: even in the case of single pilot operation there may still be the need to coordinate with air traffic and any passengers. As regards procedures the systems on some GA aircraft are simpler than CAT aircraft but the gap is continually narrowing. Gliders often have water ballast and oxygen to think about and some powered light aircraft are acquiring cockpits more complex than many airliners of the previous generation. The expectation of emergency practice twice a year or less in CAT is probably all the more unlikely in the case of those GA pilots who are comfortable in the assumption that it can never happen to them or their passengers.

    For those aircraft that have a Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or something similar, fundamental guidance will be found in the Emergencies section. If you have no POH for your aircraft you would do well to devise your own Emergency Procedures notes.
  • Check your Pilot's Operating Handbook for details of emergency procedures - if you don't have access to it, create your own Emergency Guidance notes.

  • Get the most out of the emergency check list
    from Student Pilots News (https://goo. gl/htk44l) wisely advises: 

    The main takeaway here is don’t wait every two years for a flight review or an actual emergency to get your brain thinking about “what-if” scenarios. It’s normal throughout your training for your instructor to continually simulate emergencies with you in the airplane, but once you get your certificate you’ll find these events really don’t happen that often. Make it a point to review the POH every few months … 

    Emergency Procedures in Safety Advisor (https://goo.gl/qoDt3J) counsels: 

    In emergencies, context is everything. The location. The weather. The pilot. The airplane. The circumstances in which a problem occurs can make it a virtual non-event – or turn it into a nightmare (imagine that same engine failure at 300 agl during a night takeoff over a partially frozen lake).

    With respect to checklists: In an emergency, it’s best to have the immediate action steps for certain situations – engine failure, fire, etc. – committed to memory. Once the immediate situation is under control, break out the check- list and verify that the proper steps have been taken. If need be, delve into further troubleshooting at that point. Whatever the situation, one rule always applies: Fly the airplane! Troubleshoot, talk to ATC, calm the passengers – whatever you have to do … but remember that it’s all for naught if you lose control of the airplane in the process. 

    The same source goes on to consider fire in the air: 

    It probably goes without saying, but fire is one of the worst things that can go wrong in an airplane. When faced with smoke and/or fire, the pilot’s primary goal should be to concentrate on flying the airplane safely to the ground as quickly as practical – even if that means an off-airport landing.

    If there’s electrical smoke in the cockpit, troubleshooting will likely involve shutting down all the electrical equipment and then bringing it back online, piece by piece. This can make it easier to trace the issue to a particular piece of equipment. On the other hand, if the circumstances don’t require electrical power, it’s best to leave everything turned off. Whatever the case, the basic advice is the same: If there’s a significant amount of smoke in the cockpit, head for the ground. It’s a good idea to have a small Halon fire extinguisher handy in the cockpit. A smoke hood may also be a worthwhile purchase.
  • Not the most alluring item in your wardrobe, but a Smoke Hood may well save your life!  They are available from most pilot supplies companies.

    Although in many cases a whiff of smoke in the cockpit turns out to be nothing more than a minor electrical problem, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Start preparing for a possible emergency landing before you spend a lot of time troubleshooting.

    Geoff Connolly, GASCo’s Regional Safety Officer for Greater London and South East England, was a military pilot who graduated at the Empire Test Pilot’s School. He is primarily a helicopter pilot but also has extensive experience in fixed  wing. He is an instructor and training captain and at GASCo Safety Evenings he has two points to make about emergencies for GA pilots:

    Many of you will have heard of the ‘Startle Effect’: simply, that the brain tends to freeze when confronted with an unexpected event. It’s quite topical, even for non-Aviators, as the concept figures highly in the film ‘Sully’ about the A320 forced landing on the Hudson river.

    Thinking ahead to contingencies can be a valuable tool. Like Nigel, I probably inherited from my military aeroplane training the ‘Pre-Take-Off Brief’ at the Holding Point. And in my civil multi-engine helicopter flying life, similarly it is usual to brief contingencies before starting the take-off profile or before final approach. So, in my light aeroplane, what if I don’t get my 2400 (or whatever) RPM on the take-off roll? What if I am just airborne and the engine fails? What if I am at 200-300 ft after take-off and I have an engine failure? Or in the helicopter, what if lose one engine before or after Decision Point?

    Thinking out these ‘What Ifs’ can save valuable seconds in taking the right course of action to ‘Fly the Aircraft’ if something goes wrong, particularly when at low heights.
    Secondly, I reiterate the point about practising emergencies. For example, how often do we practice a PFL in light aeroplanes? The proficiency check or biennial check is perhaps not often enough. And then we often don’t see the final 500 ft to touchdown. But we CAN practice this … it’s a Glide Approach! And many PPL helicopter pilots are prohibited by their insurers from doing the helicopter version of the PFL, Autorotation, unless accompanied by an instructor.

    Again, at Safety Evenings, we have been introducing the ‘Farley List’: what John Farley, the much-respected Harrier Test Pilot thinks HE needs to practise and how often. The list is adaptable to each of our needs, and if there are items that you don’t feel comfortable practising on your own, or your Club, Group or Insurer won’t let you, then the investment in a little of an
    Instructor’s airborne time may well be worthwhile! 

    A friend told me the rather poignant tale of the unfortunate death of his father. Dad, who was a retired doctor, was fading by degrees from a progressive failure of his heart and lungs. He was equipped with oxygen cylinders one in use and a replacement available for when the cylinder in use ran out. These enabled him to survive the recurring crises. Knowing that they were taking a bit of a risk but bored with confinement he and his wife decided on a short outing in the car one morning. He was taken bad and as his blood stream cried out desperately for more oxygen she drove hurriedly home, stopped in the drive and rushed up to the bedroom. There she grabbed a cylinder which was very bulky in relation to her slight build and heroically dragged it, bump bump bump, down the stairs and out across the gravel to the car.

    There the disappointed doctor uttered his last words on this earth: That’s the **** empty cylinder. 

    Are you properly prepared if an emergency should arise?

    Nigel Everett